By Brian M. Howle
Everyone seems to agreee that life in our area just feels better than somewhere else. It’s hard to single out just one reason, but the natural beauty of the coastal plain is unquestionably the star of the show. And how could it not be? Wide, white sandy beaches, lush dunes, wild myrtles and oaks, rich fertile soil, extensive waterways – combine these with the sub-tropical climate and the “for sale” signs almost impale themselves into the ground for you.
Older folks in this area can tell you right quick how “things used to be” if you’ve got a minute to spare. In fact you don’t really have to be all that old to know what’s been happening over the years to our precious little strip of earth known as the Grand Strand.
I’ve always been fond of hanging around what the less respectful refer to as “old timers”. Information comes with patience and time, and most kids can figure that out pretty early on in the game. Unfortunately, most make the mistake of forgetting about as they become more involved in learning how to “grow up”, though, and only later in life does it come thundering back into their consciousness. But of the few things I actually got right in those early days of decision making, sticking close to the older crowd was one of the smartest moves I ever made.
As a child, I quickly learned that the adults who were actually interested in having any form of conversation with you, as a rule,:
(A) Would not speak to you in “baby talk”, or in general assume that you had the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel;
(B) Would not hold out an open palm in your face while holding up the index finger of the other hand in that “just a sec” mode as they swing their attention to something far more important – like a commercial on TV;
(C) Would actually answer 99.9% of all questions asked, with detailed sidebars about the subject matter, the likes of which your small undeveloped brain would never have accessed in a million years.
Armed with this knowledge, I set about getting as much information about everything that I could. The first decision was to stake claim to prime info-gathering real estate. In a small rural Southern town, this was probably my very first “no-brainer”: the steps of the church, before and after the morning service. To me, those granite slabs were the equivalent of the Internet. A wisely timed tying of the shoe, a long, lazy yawn, a casual pause here – all were integral components of delineating the crowd. Yep, there was treasure to be gleaned from these folks, and I learned many a life lesson by listening to the older folks as they spoke to me.
I should confess, I should have listened more attentively a few other times back then, but I guess some life lessons have to be learned the hard way. Occasionally, a couple of times seemed necessary to get the point. So much for the disclaimer.
I first entered the job market as a teen, starting off with part-time jobs. I learned another amazing fact: There weren’t always older folks around. Understand, at the time, my concept of “older folks” was 60-80 years of age. And yes, I did think anyone over 30 was “old” in terms of hipness, but I didn’t think they would be as wise or as interesting as the older people. And I couldn’t have been happier over the discovery – after all, it meant more free information.
During my college years, my appreciation for these people really escalated. One of my very first summer jobs was construction. Laborer jobs, then as now, were plentiful but woefully low paying. I nosed around and found out form carpenters made good money, so I decided I was a form carpenter. I got my tool belt and all the usual carpenter’s tools and put everything in the belt’s little pockets and holders and got it all just right. Then I put the whole thing in the driveway and ran over it with my car 20 or 30 times, giving it that “worn with experience” look. Confident of the ruse, I applied for the carpentry job amid a flurry of misinformation.
Worked like a charm.
When I ventured out on the job site for the first time, I surveyed the other workers quickly. I spotted the oldest looking man right away, and made it my mission to befriend this grisled veteran of the sawdust wars. I confided in him that I had bluffed my way into the job and that I really needed the money (which was true). Well, to my good fortune, this fellow took a liking to me right away and proceeded to show me all the tricks of the trade. It was amazing. He taught me two year’s worth of apprentice training in two months, and it was apparent to me that he enjoyed teaching and showing me the ropes immensely. My experience was never questioned, and I was able to contribute quality work to a major project. A project which, to this day, I always point out to whomever’s in the car with me as I pass by the site.
Originally a Journalism major, I stumbled into the production aspect of the business purely by accident. In search of another summer job during college, I answered a classified for a printing press operator. The owner of the printing plant was very polite in letting me down, explaining how complicated and cantankerous a Goss Community Offset Press can be, and that only years of working with it would enable anyone to tackle the job.
But he saw my enthusiasm for the industry – and my disappointment at losing the press job – so he offered me a job as a “utility worker”. They would train me in all aspects of pre-press production work, as well as post-press operations. Pay-wise, I would be at the bottom of the food chain, but when you’re young and hungry any port will do in a storm.
First day on the job, I was introduced around to all the folks in the shop. Quiet, demure housewives; quiet, unassuming country boys, and weathered middle-aged folks abounded on the premises.
Then the doors from the darkroom swung open, and out walked the wildest looking, craziest talking old guy I had ever met. His name was Bill Faylor. He was loud. He was effervescent. And, oh, he loved to pick on the young’uns. Which, of course, consisted mainly of me.
Every morning, my day began with a boisterous tirade from Bill, asking out loud (for everyone in the shop to hear) how drunk or high I had gotten the night before, how many women I had slept with, how many warrants were out for my arrest – all before I ever had a chance to even mumble “Morning” to anyone. He was on me like a shadow, and I couldn’t get enough of it. He was one of the funniest men I ever knew. And in between all the picks and rants, he took the time to painstakingly detail the processes of each of the tasks I was to learn. The first four months of my graphics career were the most enjoyable four months of my adult working life. And to this day, I still contend that I received about five or six years worth of hands-on experience under his tutelage.
I later learned that Bill’s wife had been very ill for years. Outside the office, he was the quietest, most reserved person you’d ever see. The illusion projected at work was a mask to ease the daily pain of his life, which he never spoke of, never complained about, and never allowed to interfere with his work or his ability to work amiably with his co-workers.
But his attitude and outlook on life and work and death, along with the natural attraction to this field of work, propelled me into a career that I love as much today as the first time I ever touched a T-square and a keyboard.
25 years later, it is rewarding to know the lessons that these men – and countless others – bestowed on me were imparted on the younger kids I have worked with. Sharing knowledge requires no special talent that I can think of.
Except maybe, patience.
I guess it’s funny, that while I understood the importance of an older person’s experience and wisdom, I really never considered my own parents “old”.
Which means in the final analysis, I can take a pretty good shot at appreciating the patience my parents gave me back then. And it probably quadruples the appreciation for the patience they continue to show.
But at least now I’m in it position to let them know.
The previous article originally appeared in Alternatives NewsMagazine, January 28, 1999.